Contemporary Mexican Lit Conference Celebrates 18 Years

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

More than 160 scholars representing North American institutions from McGill University in Quebec, Canada to Universidad de Monterrey in Mexico came together at UTEP for the 18th Annual Contemporary Mexican Literature Conference March 7-9. They presented a rich variety of scholarly papers on topics ranging from the relevance of poetry in 20th century Mexico to feminine gender in theater to focuses on specific influential Mexican writers.

The conference, which was free and open to the public, was sponsored by the Department of Languages and Linguistics.

After an active morning of concurrent panels, Fernando García Núñez, Ph.D., professor of languages and linguistics, discussed this year’s conference turnout and the overall history of the event.

“We like the way that this is growing because it is not just for academics or just for students of the university, even if they are our main concern,” he said. “We envision to have people from all communities and we have been lucky with that.” He emphasized the significance of former UTEP students who had attended the conference during their school years and then come back as professionals in writing or education to keep informed about trends in Mexican literature. UTEP students who attend also have the opportunity to connect with professors from doctoral programs around the world who are seeking local talent, which may result in a big career boost for the students.

“Our students grow through this participation, García Núñez added. “We also have kids – 12- or 13-year-olds — who come with their parents as well as senior citizens, so it’s a wide range of people who are interested in Mexican culture. It’s natural given the history that our University has such a connection with Mexican ancestry, as does most of the population of El Paso.”

Writers specializing in literary criticism, poetry, nonfiction and classic literature spent the three days of the conference learning from one another and debating new trends in their fields. Attendees represented a variety of nationalities, showing the influence that Mexican literature has had on writing, critical theory and culture in countries both Latin and otherwise all over the world.

“Mexican literature is very important around the world and many Latin Americans don’t fully grasp the influence that it has had on their own literary culture,” said Daniel Centeno, Ph.D., lecturer in languages and linguistics and coordinator of this year’s literature conference. “Writers from other Latin American countries end up living in and writing about Mexico, like Gabriel García Marquez.” Centeno received his M.F.A. in creative writing at UTEP after years of working as an editor and writer in his home country of Venezuela. Centeno has also contributed to UTEP’s literary renown by launching the literary journal Coroto, which is published at UTEP and features the work of Nobel Laureates and renowned writers from all over the world translated into Spanish (sometimes for the first time) for inclusion in the journal.

Dozens of books and literary journals – many that would otherwise be unavailable to the general public – were available for purchase at tables just outside the conference rooms where most of the presentations took place throughout the weekend.

At one session titled “Escritores de la A a la Z” (“Writers from A to Z”), a dozen attendees held lively discussion after scholars presented their work examining the role of Chicanos and American-dwelling Mexicans in recent Mexican literature. Presenting scholars and audience members from the general public traded thoughts in both Spanish and English.

On Friday evening, accomplished scholar, poet, playwright and novelist Julio Ortega offered the keynote for the conference. His presentation was also part of the University’s Centennial Lecture Series. Speaking on “Carlos Fuentes entre fronteras: México, EE. UU. y España en el mapa literario del siglo XXI” in Spanish with simultaneous translation into English, Ortega entranced the audience with information about Fuentes’ impact on politics and culture, often inserting a humorous anecdote and jokes that kept listeners entertained and engaged.

Julio Puente, a doctoral student from the University of California, Los Angeles, felt Ortega was a perfect fit as keynote speaker for the conference.

“His ideas were more universal than other Mexican literature experts and that’s very relevant today,” Puente said.

UTEP graduate student Mirna Ajo-Montano was impressed with both Ortega’s delivery and content.

“It was great that his lecture was more of a conversation, touching upon interesting fundamental points about literary work but also the border situation in a world of increasing globalization,” she said. “His personal anecdotes about Fuentes and other influential authors were wonderful to hear, too.”